Keenan: Wayne State police chief takes each college shooting personally
When Chief Anthony Holt of the Wayne State University Police Department learned about the mass shooting at a college campus in Oregon, he picked up the phone and called the chief of security at Umpqua Community College.
It’s something he’s done following every college campus shooting since the horrific Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.
“I make the call just to ask if there is anything we can do to assist them,” Holt said in a recent interview at police headquarters on Cass. “They understand it’s a gesture, but they appreciate the support. And I can guarantee you that if they did need us for anything, I could send out one text and I would be instantly overburdened with officers wanting to help out.”
Such is the camaraderie of police officers on college campuses these days, a bond now tighter than ever, sadly due to the uptick in campus shootings across the country.
Chief Holt says he has had to make too many phone calls to fellow chiefs in recent months. All told, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, there have been 23 school shootings on college campuses in 2015.
While Holt commiserates with fellow chiefs whose campuses have turned into crime scenes, he says he does not feel threatened.
“I do not feel under siege,” he says. “That’s because I know how well-equipped we are to respond if something were to happen. Also, we’ve created a strong collaborative environment where this is not likely to occur.”
In the wake of recent campus shootings, several states, including Michigan, are considering legislation on whether or not to permit guns on college campuses. Michigan is one of the 19 states that bans carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus. But, last week in Lansing, a Senate committee advanced legislation that would allow people to apply for a special exemption to carry a concealed weapon into areas currently off limits, namely college classrooms.
While respecting the legislative process, Holt says: “I don’t believe allowing people to carry guns in the classroom will improve safety. And it may create unnecessary anxiety. We have well-trained police officers and appropriate programs and policies in place.”
Those programs include regular CompStat (law enforcement speak for a data-driven crime reduction strategy) meetings where upward of 40 officials attend from the university’s anchor institutions — from Henry Ford Hospital and the Detroit Medical Center to the Detroit Institute of Arts and several neighborhood organizations. Together, they pour over crime-mapping statistics, spot trends and target crime hot spots.
A SUIT (Student Update Information Team) comprised of students, counselors, housing administrators and general counsel also meet regularly to discuss student behavior issues, especially those involving threatening actions. Students also have access to an online training curriculum designed to help in an active shooter situation. Lessons include everything from how to develop a survival mindset and differentiate between “cover” and “concealment,” to identifying “the considerations to make if you decide to ‘take out’ the attacker.”
Mock exercises held
Holt’s team has participated in several mock active shooter exercises and professors are trained to be on the lookout for predictive behavior and know where to relay that information to the proper channels so that nothing falls through the cracks.
Admittedly vague about specifics, Holt explains: “I don’t want to broadcast our strategy because I don’t want to put a blueprint out there where a potential active shooter might want to challenge us.” That said, his force has intercepted “people making bad decisions” and been able to quell situations before they escalate.
The urban commuter campus also has a distinct advantage over other college campus security forces because of its partnership with the Detroit Police Department. Wayne’s 60 police officers are commissioned by the city of Detroit and they have the same responsibilities and authority as any Michigan police officer.
“We are not strictly a campus police department,” Holt says. “We patrol the entire Midtown area.”
Holt eagerly touts its average emergency response time of 90 seconds and Wayne State’s July 2015 ranking by BestColleges.com as among the top 50 safest college campuses in America.
Still, Holt says there’s a difference between confidence and complacency.
“I’ve been a police officer for 39 years (he started at Wayne in 1977). For as long as I’ve been in law enforcement, I am still dumbfounded by what motivates a person to shoot innocent people. I don’t worry about a campus shooting here because I know we have all the right procedures in place. But I do know that every day we have be vigilant.”